Sunderland's eighth straight Premiership defeat was only to be expected at White Hart Lane yesterday. But how they hauled Tottenham down to their level. And that strange equality was finally broken as the Newcastle-born Michael Carrick scored his first goal for Spurs.
In their desperation, many Sunderland fans had been saying that if relegation was almost certain at least their team could offer up some fighting performances. That was much the same as their manager, Mick McCarthy, had recently said when he called the team "gutless".
After a difficult start yesterday, there was no lack of guts. Even so, one of their troubles is that often they hurt themselves. Here they began to endanger their own goal almost as soon as the game began. Hesitant, inefficient defending looked likely to have severe repercussions.
After a couple of failed attempts to clear corners, their goalkeeper Ben Alnwick seemed to be as nervous as any, but he recovered to deflect away a vicious shot from Teemu Tainio and suddenly Sunderland, almost unbelievably, found themselves in the lead. A 16th-minute free-kick awarded 20 yards out appeared to offer no special danger to Tottenham's Paul Robinson, but he was deceived by the power and the bend of Dean Whitehead's shot that cleared the wall of defenders and dipped under the bar.
Shock, or a lack of enterprise, condemned Spurs to a frustrating attempt to recover. If nothing else, Sunderland's defenders have size on their side and usually got to the ball in the air. However, Spurs played into their heads and hands.
The breakthrough for Spurs came when Paul Stalteri slipped a crucial pass along the wing for Robbie Keane to collect and centre quickly. Mido had no trouble in slamming home the equaliser. By then Spurs were fortunate to have all 11 players on the field because Keane had kicked out at Gary Breen.
The referee, Peter Walton, did not even take his name, which Sunderland were to rue because a long clearance was headed on by Mido. Alnwick came out, collided with the defender Danny Collins and Keane, and between them they deflected the ball over the line. Keane claimed his 50th goal for Spurs in Martin Jol's 50th match in sole charge.
At that point a Spurs rout seemed possible, but weak defending allowed the Sunderland substitute Anthony Le Tallec to get possession and slide in a surprising equaliser.
Sunderland were justified in feeling they had done enough for a point and were relieved when Breen handled, but Alnwick dived across goal to turn away Keane's penalty. Yet they were to suffer again when, in the 77th minute, Carrick cut in on the right and beat a line of defenders with his angled shot inside the far post.
"That was a great game for the crowd, but not for me," Jol confessed. "I still don't see us as a top-four team - we need to see off teams like Sunderland.''
McCarthy responded by claiming that it was a positive step not to have been overwhelmed. "I expected that they would be better than us but we frustrated them." And did that give him confidence to continue the struggle? "I still love every minute of the job," he said.Reuse content